The notion of restoring the University of Virginia’s iconic Rotunda to the original Thomas Jefferson design is not new. It dates to at least 1964, when the university’s Jefferson Society co-hosted the first Restoration Ball to raise funds for that purpose.
The tradition continued last weekend with the 2011 Restoration Ball, which raised over $5,000 at a time when the Rotunda is in dire need of restoration.
In reporting the story linked in the last sentence, I was surprised to learn that the U-Va. community has not always celebrated Jefferson’s architectural legacy.
Jefferson designed the Rotunda and died just before its completion in 1826, at a cost of $60,000. His role as author of the Academical Village evidently had all but faded from memory by 1895, when fire destroyed part of the Rotunda and all of an addition that had been unceremoniously added in mid-century. A campus preservationist told me Jefferson’s precious hand-written designs were plopped in the mail and sent to New York for review by the architect who oversaw its rebuilding.
It’s odd: Jefferson has been consistently ranked the fourth or fifth greatest president, and surely his achievements were known in 1895. Yet, for whatever reason, his central role in the layout of U-Va. apparently didn’t prompt calls for restoring the Jeffersonian Rotunda until the Kennedy administration.
Interest escalated until, in 1976, the structure was gutted and restored in a 1970s interpretation of Jefferson’s vision. Thankfully, there are no renderings of the Founding Father with Shawn Cassidy hair and flared pants.
Proceeds from the ball and other student-led efforts go toward the university’s official Rotunda restoration fund.
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